State Board makes it official: No API scores for next two years

March 14, 2014

With federal approval finally in hand to give a Common Core-aligned practice test this spring, the State Board of Education took the inevitable next step this week. It suspended the Academic Performance Index, the chief measure of schools’ academic growth or progress, for this year and next.

A reconstituted API will resume in 2015-16, incorporating results from the Smarter Balanced assessments, the new Common Core tests for English language arts and math that will be given to students in grades 3 to 8 and grade 11.

California is doing a Smarter Balanced field or practice test this year and formally launching the operational Smarter Balanced test in spring 2015. That test will provide the base API. Results from the 2016 test will provide the growth API, a basis for comparison and calculation of a school’s three-digit API number.

California is in the first stages of transforming its school and district accountability systems, including the creation of new standardized tests in nearly every subject. It is also rethinking the components of the API itself.

Last year, with the passage of AB 484, the state Legislature terminated the administration of nearly all California Standards Tests, the tests measuring students’ knowledge of the old state academic standards, and authorized the transition to new higher quality tests in all subjects, starting with Smarter Balanced assessments in English language arts and math. (Existing science tests in grades 5, 8, and 10, required by federal law, are continuing.) AB 484 also mandated a fresh start by explicitly banning the comparison of schools’ California Standards Tests scores with the Smarter Balanced scores. The state board’s vote to suspend the API officially creates a two-year hiatus.

Civil rights groups and some policy analysts, such as Anne Hyslop of New America Foundation (see her scathing March 13 column), criticized California’s break in accountability as an abdication of efforts to close the achievement gap and inform parents of their children’s progress. They pointed out that other states that adopted the Common Core standards created either transition tests or other ways to bridge the gap in scores between their old and new tests. U.S. Secretary Arne Duncan, pointing to the federal requirement under the No Child Left Behind law to administer annal state tests for accountability purposes, threatened to fine California millions if not billions of dollars.

But California’s education leaders, including state Superintendent Tom Torlakson, state board President Michael Kirst, and a majority of the Legislature took the unified position that California’s teachers and schools needed to focus exclusively on implementing Common Core  and preparing for the new, more rigorous tests. And Duncan relented earlier this month, granting California a waiver without penalties. The state will be allowed to give a Smarter Balanced field or practice test to all students this year and to resume reporting scores for federal accountability purposes under NCLB next year.

The API itself is evolving. Another state law, championed by Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, requires that at least 40 percent of the API incorporate other measures, such as high school graduation rates or perhaps indicators of college and career readiness, starting in 2015-16. The Local Control Funding Formula de-emphasizes the API and standardized tests by including it as only one of eight priorities of school and student achievement that districts must address.

The two-year break in the API will give the state board more time to think through how to fit various pieces and laws together.

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